TARGET 8 Cause of Death: Bullying - Coroner's inquest unusual in suicide

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GLASGOW – Glasgow residents experienced a divide both in the city and at the school as reactions collided over a coroner’s inquest that found a teen’s suicide was caused by bullying.

Howard County Coroner Frank Flaspohler held that unusual  inquest to determine the cause of death for 17-year-old Kenny Suttner’s death, which the jury determined was caused not by suicide as initially written on the death certificate, but because of the actions of others.

The jury said Kenny’s employer was negligent in training its employees in harassment prevention and resolution. The jury also said the school followed policies and procedures, but it was negligent in preventing bullying.

A town divided

The Target 8 Team spoke with people in the town, talked to school officials, reached out to experts and requested records to determine the impacts of this case. A number of community members approached KOMU 8 News and spoke on the condition of anonymity because of concerns about retaliation.

Since the inquest, some residents in the town have faced opposition. One man said testifying at the inquest likely played a role in someone losing their job. Another man said a group of people boycotted a local business because one of the employees testified at the inquest.

He said this is the reaction toward people involved because by speaking out, they are “tarnishing the reputation of the town.”

One woman explained her experiences that resulted from her testimony: “The division I see a lot after the inquest, I got the cold shoulder, you know, because I was on the stand with Kenny."

Another resident said the town should not be divided just because of an inquest: “I think that, you know, some people were mad because it [the inquest] happened, some people were glad because it happened."    

Student: ‘I feel like Kenny would still be here with us here today if something was done’

The divide persists among some families and the school.

"Why would a 17-year-old boy want to take his own life if something was done about it?” one woman said.

"Our school doesn't do anything about our bullying, like they say they do but they don't really," a Glasgow Schools student said.

The student’s mom said having a bully policy only goes so far.

"You can preach a bully policy all you want, you can post papers, you can wallpaper the school in a bully policy, you have to enforce it and I don't feel that it’s being enforced,” she said. “I hope to see that it brings light to a lot of people and that they realize that it's an issue, I mean, not only in Glasgow, but everywhere."

In Missouri there is a hotline for people to report school violence. Based on its telephone and online report data since 2014, statewide there were 778 cases of bullying and harassment reported. In Glasgow there was only 1 reported case.

A release from the Glasgow School District said, "It is seemingly not enough for the district to adopt policies and procedures to prevent bullying, not enough to train staff and students on bullying prevention, the district must prevent every instance of one student bullying another. With due respect to the inquest jury, no school district can satisfy this standard."    

The school district’s attorney denied the school having any responsibility for Kenny’s death when asked.

"How would Glasgow be responsible for a student committing suicide? That's ludicrous. I just got done saying we do all the policies, we do all the training, even the jury found the district followed all its policies and all its procedures."

Interactive content and more information

To see an extended interview with the attorney, go to our interactive story page. You can also use interactive maps, read the documents from this story and read more about the case.